In China, the SARS-CoV-2 virus was found on packages of imported frozen seafood that came from the port city of Dalian. COVID-19 recently spiked in Dalian, to 92 cases. Chinese authorities are not saying where the packages originated.
Last month in Dalian, the coronavirus was found on packages of frozen shrimp from Ecuador. In response, China suspended shipments from 3 Ecuadoran shrimp producers.
Chinese authorities also are not saying if any of the recently imported seafood has been exported, although they did note that the goods were sealed off and everyone who handled them was quarantined. All have tested negative for the virus.
The novel coronavirus is known to spread from droplets passed between people. Is it really a problem if the virus is found on food packaging?
According to recently released World Health Organization guidelines, maybe. The new guidelines said that while the virus is spread by droplets, it’s probably not airborne except under very specific conditions.
As for surfaces, the guidelines state:
“Transmission may also occur through fomites in the immediate environment around the infected person. Therefore, transmission of the COVID-19 virus can occur by direct contact with infected people and indirect contact with surfaces in the immediate environment or with objects used on the infected person (e.g., stethoscope or thermometer).”
A fomite is an inanimate object (like a doorknob or other surface) that can transfer a pathogen to a human if it is contaminated with an infectious agent. So, theoretically, people could get the coronavirus after touching infected packages in the grocery store or an infected styrofoam takeout container and then putting their hand in their nose or mouth.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees; their guidelines state that it’s possible for a person to get COVID-19 from touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has claimed there’s no evidence the virus can spread through food or packaging, because it is a respiratory virus. The Food Packaging Forum, while echoing this statement, still suggests that consumers use caution when handling food packaging, by washing food packaging once it enters the household, transferring packaged goods to clean containers for storage or quarantining items for 3 days before touching them again.
The Mayo Clinic says there’s no evidence the virus can spread from packaging but still has these suggestions:
- After handling takeout containers, wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water and transfer food to a clean dish before eating. Wash your hands before eating. Disinfect any surfaces that takeout containers touch.
- Wash grocery store fruits and vegetables with water before eating them. Wash your hands with soap and water after coming home from the grocery store.
- Disinfect reusable bags you carry to and from the grocery store.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus can live for hours to days on surfaces, depending on what the surface is made of. For instance, it can live on plastic (like a milk jug) for 2 or 3 days, on stainless steel for 2 or 3 days and on a metal doorknob for 5 days. Those who cook with copper pots and pans are in luck: the virus lasts only 4 hours on these surfaces. It lasts 8 to 10 hours on an aluminum soda can or water bottle.
As for takeout food, the virus can live on cardboard for 24 hours. There’s not much consensus on styrofoam. But there’s evidence viral particles can live in poop, so that may be another reason to hope your takeout guy is washing his hands.
So far, the new coronavirus is not thought to spread through food or drinking water. However, some experts say it could live in freezing temperatures for up to 2 years.
Gladstone Institutes (San Francisco) research scientist Dr. Warner Greene told NBC News:
“Coronaviruses are, by their nature, ‘sticky’ viruses…. They can survive for a surprising period of time on surfaces, although they are rapidly dying on these surfaces.”
Maybe the Chinese authorities are right to worry about the frozen seafood.
Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice. Do not take action based solely on this article and always consult with an appropriate healthcare professional. This article is purely for informational purposes.